Saturday, September 28, 2013

On Being a Font of Mis-information -- Disastrous Name-Dropping

Sara James

Always eager for a conversation piece I was tickled when in Provincetown in the seventies someone told me that an acquaintance, Sara James, was the grand-daughter of one of our country's pre-eminent novelists, Henry James.  I couldn't wait to spread this information in a letter to my friend Dennis back in Michigan.  Dennis, like me, loved reading, and could be dazzled by even a small brush with celebrity.

Not long after my report, Dennis was invited to visit an old friend who'd moved to Chicago and become a librarian.  I'd met this friend and nick-named him Half-Irish. I didn't like him much.  Half-Irish, comfortable in society, had a dinner party so that his friends might meet Dennis.  The friends were mostly librarians, mostly gay, mostly pretentious, and suave chatters at an elegant table.  Dennis felt a little out of place; he was smart, but these weren't the kind of people he was comfortable around, and he was left without much to say.  Finally, amongst the literary talk,  he managed to edge in that his friend George, who lived in Provincetown, knew the grand-daughter of Henry James.

Someone aimed a gun of put-down at Dennis' country-bumpkin-ness.  "Henry James never had children so just how does he have grand-children?  He was as queer as a three-dollar bill even if he might not have accepted it in himself.  Sorry, but your friend is full of shit."   

Ouch!  Dennis wanted to crawl under the table and never come out.

Once I got to know Sara James better I asked her about her literary connections.  She is the grand-daughter not of Henry, but of his brother William, who was a psychologist and philosopher, and the author of The Varieties of Religious Experience, a book that has not been out of print since its publication.

To this day Sara and her sister Jemima get some nice royalty checks from both their grandfather's and their great-uncle Henry's literary estates.  Or at least I was told such by a friend who used to live with Jemima in Los Angeles.  He said, in fact, in an old 1997 email, "'Washington Square' is opening this week; they will get gads from it."

1 comment:

  1. Someone's final comment in a review of 'The Varieties of Religious Experience': Upon closing its covers, I was a satiated bee. The book is total nectar.

    Mr Fitz...'the gun of put-down'...there's something about those who use that infinite number of ways that dude could have let Country Dennis know James had never had children. He chose the put-down and it says so much about him.